Entrepreneur in Residence, Gigot Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Former Executive Vice President, ACCO North America; President, Acme Boot Company; and President, Jarman Shoes
Failing to see a game-changing technology juggernaut headed straight toward my business.
It was 1996, and Mike Vogel had just taken over as president of Day-Timer, a division of office supply giant ACCO Brands. Back then, the reigning workplace status symbol was the personal organizer—a book-size binder with a paper calendar and address book meant for note-taking. That’s right. With a pen or pencil.
That same year, a Chicago-based technology company called U.S. Robotics debuted a small digital device known as the Palm Pilot. Within months, Vogel’s business life would be turned upside down.
“First, we started losing the male customer, but our sales were steady with women,” he said. This was initially a comforting thought, Vogel explained, because women commonly bought not one, but two organizers—one for work, the other to manage the household.
But eventually the move to electronic calendars couldn’t be ignored. So the company envisioned a digital interactive solution that wouldn’t kill its paper-based product. External website developers working with the Day-Timer team created a dedicated website featuring an online calendar and address book where customers would keep their data for printout—on Day-Timer
paper. The site would cost customers nothing but would be supported by advertising.
Work would continue into 1998 on the solution. But Vogel and Day-Timer weren’t alone. “We were trying to improve our software to be the best, but a small team of developers brought theirs to Yahoo! first and sold it for something like $30 million to $50 million, which was the kind of money getting thrown around back then.”
That was the death knell. By late 1998, Palm dominated the digital organizer market and Day-Timer was trying to find a buyer for it’s software.
“There’s one thing I’ve learned: All businesses get stale at some point and the challenge is to see this coming and to refresh the business,”says Vogel.
“We didn’t understand the digital customer and what they wanted, and when we attempted a solution to catch up, we went for perfection instead of speed. We missed a paradigm shift in the early, critical stages and it’s rare for a company to succeed when they are playing catch up.”